POLLY THE PARROT
- Grant Recipient
Legends & Lore®
Cemetery, Folklore, Site
- 1101 Amyx St, West Plains, MO 65775, USA
- 36.724767, -91.842485
West Plains Council on the Arts, Inc.
Polly Langston was a Cuban immigrant to the United States, who came to New Orleans soon after the Civil War. When she arrived, she spoke only Spanish, but she quickly learned English, and by the time of her death at 53 years old, her “gift of gab” was noted in newspapers across the country. Polly also happened to be a parrot.
Dr. Thomas Bradford bought Polly in 1867 or 1868 and began teaching her the English language. A couple years later, Polly joined the Bradford family in their move to Marshfield, Missouri, where Dr. Bradford served as a prominent town physician.
On April 8, 1880, tragedy struck when a Marshfield tornado killed Dr. Bradford, his son Sydney, and a hundred other townsfolk, and left hundreds more hurt and homeless. Mrs. Bradford was severely injured, but survived, as did Polly. A search party had thought they heard a buried child in a debris pile crying for its mother, but it was, in fact, poor Polly wailing “Oh Ma, oh Ma!”
The rescuers recognized Polly and took her to Mrs. Bradford’s bed in a makeshift hospital, where Polly used her hookbill to clean the blood and dirt from Mrs. Bradford’s face. Polly proved a most loyal companion, remaining at Mrs. Bradford’s bedside while she recuperated. Polly never forgot the tornado and feared wind and thunderstorms for the rest of her life. When she returned home, Polly took to crying out for her lost father and brother, lamenting “Oh Pa!” and “Oh Sydney!” The incessant wailing proved a too constant reminder of Mrs. Bradford sorrow, and she decided to relocate Polly to her daughter Mrs. Langston’s home in West Plains, where Polly would spend the remainder of her life and become nationally renowned for her vocal skills.
Polly was considered the most gifted bird in Missouri. She could pray and sing stanzas of old hymns, including “How Firm a Foundation” and “Jesus, Lover of My Soul,” and at church meetings, she prayed and sang so fervently that she would outdo even the preacher. She was known for her soliloquies, could carry on long conversations with herself, and would repeat bits of gossip overheard from Mrs. Langston’s neighbors. To Mrs. Langston’s embarrassment, Polly could also swear fluently in both English and Spanish.
Impressed by Polly’s vocal skills, the celebrated showman P.T. Barnum endeavored to purchase Polly, raising his bid ever higher as each offer was rebuffed. But Mrs. Bradford politely declined, asking simply, “Do you think we’d sell one of our children?”
Polly was so beloved by her family that upon her death she was laid to rest in a little casket in the Langston burial grounds at Oak Lawn Cemetery, the resting place for the town’s most prominent early citizens, and her grave beside Mrs. Langston is marked with an inscribed granite tombstone, the only non-human buried in Oak Lawn.